Monday, March 20, 2017

I had intended on walking...

...the third leg of our Western Avenue project yesterday but my son wasn't up to it. So, instead, I went down to the Mount Greenwood neighborhood on the Far Southwestern Side of the city. (If you go any farther, say, west of Pulaski, you literally fall off the face of the earth are in suburban Oak Lawn.)

My main motivation for going to Mount Greenwood was simple: it's one of the very few of Chicago's 77 community areas I had never been. But, also, it's been the site of racial tension lately (you can read about it here and here) and I wanted to get a look at the neighborhood for myself.

From Chicago Tonight last November:

A diverse mix of protesters, including Black Lives Matter activists, local religious leaders and a revolutionary communist group, gathered at the intersection of 111th Street and Kedzie Avenue in Mount Greenwood on Sunday.

The demonstration took place near the site of the Nov. 5 fatal shooting of Joshua Beal, a 25-year-old African-American man from Indianapolis, at the hands of off-duty police officers. Law enforcement officials say Beal pointed a gun before he was fatally shot.

Several protests have taken place in Mount Greenwood since the shooting. Some residents of the predominantly white South Side neighborhood have gathered to oppose the protests and express support for the Chicago Police Department.

(Now, before I go any further I should state that I'm not interested in judging either side. While I've said many times in this blog that "I'm not color-blind but I'd like to be," I'm also well aware that I grew up in a succession of affluent, lily-white suburbs and can't honestly put myself into the shoes of either the white residents of Mount Greenwood or the protesters. So I'm strictly an observer here.)

According to Wikipedia, Mount Greenwood's population in 2010 was a little over 19,000, of which almost 86 percent was white. As it mentions at least three times, the neighborhood is home to many people of Irish ancestry (all emphasis mine):

It is a predominantly Irish-Catholic neighborhood on the South Side of the city. 

Mount Greenwood is home to many Chicago firefighters, police officers and union workers of Irish heritage.

Mount Greenwood, like many other Chicago neighborhoods, has its own branch of the Chicago Public Library. The library has a significant Irish heritage collection.

Okay, we get it.

Since 111th Street seemed to be the main drag, I parked my car on Whipple and 110th and walked west. The street is lined with Irish bars like the one above, but St. Christina Catholic Church also figures prominently.

I had heard of St. Christina's before: it's a big feeder school for Catholic high schools like Mount Carmel, Brother Rice, St. Rita, Marist and Mother McAuley. According to its website:

Geographically speaking, St. Christina church is located at 111th and Homan, but since its inception its spiritual foundation has been solidly cemented deep in the hearts of its loyal parishioners.

The beginning of the journey of St. Christina Parish began in the year 1921 when the Rev. Peter Geraghty saw the need for a Catholic church in the expanding Mt. Greenwood community and proceeded to purchase two and a half acres of land in the area around 111th and Homan.

With the population of Mt. Greenwood growing in leaps and bounds it was obvious that the Christian community of St. Christina needed a school. On July 25, 1938, Father Rebedeau signed a fifteen year lease on the old Central Park school located on Central Park avenue. When the sisters of the Dominic were commissioned to teach the Catholic students, the former Mt. Greenwood school became St. Christina parochial school. On August 27,1938, Mother Geslaus arrived with her fellow Dominican sisters. When the new school welcomed the children of the parish on September 6, 1938 there were 173 pupils ready and eager to learn.

Rev. Rebedeau lived to see the building of the beautiful and stunning church that we utilize today. It comfortably accommodates 1,500 parishioners. This new church was dedicated by Cardinal Stritch on May 27, 1956.

So why does the cornerstone say 1954? No matter.

I'm not sure how to describe the church architecturally, except to say that if it's an example of Mid-Century modernism, it's a pretty good one. Mostly red brick with limestone (?) trim, its three brass (?) front doors are set in one type of marble and framed by another. But its steeple, which is made of some sort of shiny metal (stainless steel?), positively glistened yesterday in the midday sun. For a church designed in the 1950s, this was one I actually liked.

But the key phrase from its website was, "its spiritual foundation has been solidly cemented deep in the hearts of its loyal parishioners." You can just tell that the parish is at the figurative, as well as the literal, center of Mount Greenwood. I ducked inside to get a look (it was too dark for pictures) and saw a display in the vestibule that described a $4.9 million investment that DNAinfo Chicago reports as "the addition of four new classrooms, a new wooden floor in the gym and a new entrance to the Catholic elementary school."

And I have to admit I was struck by this. It seems like the Archdiocese of Chicago -- like others around the country -- is closing more and more parishes every year as the culture at large becomes increasingly secular. And in the face of all this the working-class community of Mount Greenwood is committing almost five million of its hard-earned dollars to improvements to its parish? Even a cynical agnostic like me had to be impressed. Obviously, the parish is central to its members' lives.

While there were still a lot of Irish flags and decorations up only two days after St. Patrick's Day, there were also a lot of American flags out. On this particular half-block stretch of 110th Street, for example, I counted six of them. And it's nowhere close to the Fourth of July!

The streets were clean as a whistle yesterday (a refreshing change from all the litter in my own neighborhood) and it was quiet. There were very few people out on such a beautiful day (my guess is they were all inside watching the Blackhawks game on TV) and so I felt like I had the neighborhood all to myself. I'll bet Mount Greenwood is filled with regular folks just trying to get by as best they can while raising their families with a minimum of Sturm und Drang.

Needless to say, though, this is Trump country:

In the 2016 presidential election, Mount Greenwood was the only community area won by Donald Trump. The area cast 5,445 votes for Trump and cast 3,320 votes for Hillary Clinton. Mount Greenwood had also gone for the Republican candidate in 2012 with 4,908 votes cast for Mitt Romney and 3,983 votes cast for Barack Obama.

That's 62 and 55 percent, respectively. I'm almost surprised either one was that close!

But why back Trump in such numbers? He's already lent his support to a Republican health care plan and a draconian budget both of which will harm his own voters in particular. Have they been conned? And, what's more, will they ever get wise to the con? Or will the Donald just distract them with something else four years from now?

Seriously, why did the residents of Mount Greenwood vote so overwhelmingly for Donald Trump? Did they hope to make America great again? Mount Greenwood doesn't look so bad right now; my guess is the unemployment rate there is low and the incidence of opioid addiction is even lower.

Was it abortion and Supreme Court justices? Maybe. But then why did some of the counter-demonstrators carry Trump signs? What does abortion have to do with that young man's death? And why would they assume that the demonstrators hadn't voted for Trump? Surely they want to make America great again too, right?

So what is the reason? Is it all just "tribalism"? I hope not.

1 comment:

James said...

Architecture talk always reminds me of one of my favorite Kramer lines when he describes a diagonal doorway as "architecturally incorrect"